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350 is a lie

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Benjamin Sibelman
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Living Worlds Productions

350 is a lie

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"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
        - Dr. James Hansen, NASA

"While agreeing unabated emissions pose serious risks, some prominent scientists and economists focusing on climate policy said the 350 target was so unrealistic the campaign risked not being taken seriously — or could convey the wrong message. 'Three-fifty is so impossible to achieve that to make it the goal risks the reaction that if we are already over the cliff, then let's just enjoy the ride until it's over,' said John Reilly, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
        - Andrew C. Revkin and Nick Perry, "Worldwide Demonstrations Advocate '350' Carbon Limit," The Seattle Times October 25, 2009

"Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done."
        - Paul Hawken, commencement address at the University of Portland, May 3, 2009

The 350.org Global Day of Climate Action, almost certainly the biggest single political event in history, happened three weeks ago yesterday, and I haven't posted about it until now. Why? Because I didn't know what to think after attending an event, listed on the 350.org website but actually part of an unrelated Seattle Town Hall lecture series, in which Professor David Battisti of the University of Washington provided the climate science endorsement of that John Reilly quote above. His graph of climate futures, taken from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, defines stabilizing CO2 levels at just over 500 ppm by the year 2100 as a "utopian" scenario in which environmentalists achieve everything they can reasonably hope for.

In a way, I realized after calming down for a week or so, this didn't say anything I hadn't already been aware of. Politics is about compromise, global politics doubly so, and so it stands to reason that however urgent the need for drastic action, chances are it simply won't happen unless the threat is imminent. And since the climate has actually cooled a bit since 2005 (a blip in the overall warming trend, of course), the idea that the climate crisis is already in progress and spiraling toward global catastrophe is currently not believable enough to spur strong action at the global climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month.

In a personal communication, Professor Battisti admitted that the 350 movement has a use, to serve as a high enough upper bound to possibly achieve a semi-decent commitment to action after the inevitable compromises are made. But now it looks like even that may be a pipe dream. Despite the pressure of those 5200 events occurring in 181 countries on October 24th,

". . . depressingly, all predictions point to a big, fat non-event. The pundits, and even the lead negotiators, tell us that we can’t expect that 'FAB' (fair, ambitious and binding) treaty we’ve all been working for to extend the work of the Kyoto agreement. There are just too many disagreements and unresolved issues, they say, between 'developed' and 'developing' countries over issues ranging from targets for reducing global warming pollution to investments in clean energy technology and the adaptation funds needed to transition away from a quickly warming world.

"And so, we squabble as the world burns."
        - 1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell, "What's a grrrl to do when everyone predicts disaster?" on the Care2 Global Warming Blog

In search of an answer to the question posed in that article title (or a more gender-neutral version thereof), I wrote a sort of fable to try and convince myself that an inspiring future could exist in which civilization heroically survives and prospers in a hot, damaged world. Please read it and tell me what you think.

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